With a seasoned third-time chief minister and a young deputy chief minister, the Congress in Rajasthan is witnessing an uncomfortable change in its working style. Crucial decisions regarding the state are now being taken in New Delhi, largely because any difference of opinion between the ‘united’ duo – Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot – is put directly before Rahul Gandhi.
The events in the grand old party leading up to the election – and even after that – suggest that the ego war between Gehlot and Pilot is unlikely to end anytime soon.
When Pilot took his oath with chief minister Gehlot, he became the first deputy chief minister of the party in Rajasthan to do so. In his earlier tenure, the Gehlot government had two deputy chief ministers – Kamla Beniwal and Banwari Lal Bairwa. However, they were appointed only as a ‘caste balance’ measure eyeing the then 2003 polls.
In that sense, Pilot has emerged as a strong contender in pursuing his will against Gehlot – who has so far successfully set aside the leaders pitched against him.
Despite Gandhi backing Pilot, Gehlot has maintained an upper hand in the state by attaining the top post, reshuffling the bureaucracy even before the announcement of the cabinet and later inducting his men in majority in the cabinet.
The state cabinet has inducted 25 ministers, including the chief minister and the deputy chief minister. While four out of the 13 cabinet ministers – Bhanwarlal Meghwal, Harish Choudhary, Ramesh Chandra Meena, Pratap Singh Khachariyawas – are from the Pilot camp, eight – B.D. Kalla, Shanti Dhariwal, Parsadi Lal Meena, Lalchand Kataria, Vishvendra Singh, Udailal Anjana and Shale Mohammad – are staunch Gehlot supporters.
Out of the ten state ministers – Govind Singh Dotasara, Mamta Bhupesh, Arjun Bamniya, Bhanwar Singh Bhati, Sukhram Bishnoi, Ashok Chandna, Tikaram Jully, Bhajanlal Jatav, Rajendra Yadav and Subhash Garg – at least six are loyalists of Gehlot and three of Pilot.
While the two leaders are making an all-out effort to outmanoeuvre the other, the enthusiasm of the newly-formed Congress government in the state is reduced to waking up to a new deadlock every so often – where Gandhi has to intervene.
The ticketing process of the grand old party has been the biggest blunder with nine Congress rebels who were denied ticket winning the contest as independents. Several of these rebels were loyalists of Gehlot and have been a part of the previous Congress government led by him. Six of these rebels who emerged victorious, such as former minister from Dudu Babulal Nagar, approached Gehlot the morning after the results to lend their support to his candidature for the top post.
It must be noted that the Congress fell short of one mark in attaining the majority on its own in the state assembly polls.
Govind Singh Dotasra, the recently-inducted state minister from Laxmangarh in Sikar, told The Wire that the working of the Congress party is no different this time. “The Congress party is known to work democratically and that is what it is doing now. There is no sort of infighting in the party as projected in media reports.”
At a time when delivering on promises should be a priority, the Congress in Rajasthan is occupied with settling its own power equations.
Many political analysts believe the factions in the state Congress would do more harm than good. “There are undoubtedly two power centres in the state who cannot reach any consensus on their own, and that is unlikely to help in facilitating governance in the state. If the condition remains so, the party will suffer in the general elections too,” Rajendra Bora, senior journalist and a political analyst based in Jaipur told The Wire.
The loan waiver announcement by the newly-formed Gehlot government is being seen as a welcome step – a promise kept by Rahul Gandhi. However, chances of its delivery seem improbable considering the handful amount set aside for it.
Out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, the newly-appointed ministers have covered the majority of the districts, leaving behind certain regions where the performance of the party in the assembly polls was already poor.
These include Bhilwara, where the party could manage only two of the seven seats, Rajsamand, where Congress won two of the four seats but the senior leader C.P. Joshi is still out of the cabinet, Pali, where Congress couldn’t win a single seat and Ganganagar, where the party won two seats while the BJP grabbed three.
While the announcement of the portfolios of the ministers, including deputy CM Pilot is still pending, it remains to be seen whether the ministers would be given a say when the bureaucrats have been already appointed according to Gehlot’s choice.
In arrangement with The Wire